A hallmark of modern, innovative businesses is that they think digitally. They recognize that technology galvanizes different ways of thinking, and therefore doing. The introduction of steam and water power in the 1800s, electricity in the early 19th century and electronics in the 1970s resulted in wholesale industrial revolutions with drastic changes in society and warfare. Today’s digital engineering, sometimes called Industry 4.0, is causing a new industrial revolution. Driven by cyber-physical technologies such as industrial internet of things, cloud computing, big data analytics, digital engineering and digital manufacturing, it enables transforming document-centric processes to a digital, model-based systems engineering approach involving all the advances of the new cyber-physical world.
It is not a question of whether the aerospace and defense industry will join the digital revolution. It is already happening. The questions are: when, to what degree, how and to what benefit?
Digital twin, or digital thread, are terms being used to describe engineering in a digital environment through modeling and simulation. At General Electric, the concept of a digital twin embodies a software representation of a physical asset such as an engine. This allows customers to better understand, predict and optimize the performance of each unique engine. This digital representation can be done for an individual asset, an integrated system of assets or a fleet of assets. In 2017, the research and advisory company Gartner identified “digital twin” as one of the top 10 critical technology trends.
Digital engineering in acquisition and sustainment of defense systems is gaining traction across the industry. Adopting digital engineering requires a digital environment, or ecosystem. It is an integrated, interconnected infrastructure and methodology — process, methods and tools — used to store, access, analyze and visualize evolving data and models. This is the definition of a digital engineering ecosystem provided by the digital engineering initiative in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for systems engineering.
The ecosystem houses and manages the technical data such as digital drawings, models, test data, reports, and operational and maintenance data in a manner such that it is accessible to engineers and analysts across the lifecycle.